Job creation will weaken Taliban in Afghanistan, Pentagon official says

November 30, 2010

The Dallas Morning News, Jim Landers, 12:00 AM CST on Tuesday, November 16, 2010

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon’s point man for winning the economic war in Afghanistan is coming to Dallas to tell local business leaders that jobs in farming and mining are key to weakening the Taliban insurgency.

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Paul Brinkley, a 44-year-old Wylie native with two degrees from Texas A&M, is the scheduled speaker today for a Dallas luncheon of Business Executives for National Security.

Brinkley directs a Pentagon task force created in 2006 with the initial mission of finding jobs in Iraq. U.S. generals found many Iraqis were fighting Americans for a paycheck rather than an ideological or religious cause.

Brinkley has carried that mission to Afghanistan, but with a much broader mandate. The task force is trying to help the Afghan government create a sustainable economy out of what is now a charity-fueled weakling.

Afghanistan has a $14 billion economy where little more than $1 billion is generated through licit business ventures.

“Sixty percent of Afghan GDP is the result of donor activity,” Brinkley said. “Twenty-five to 30 percent is drugs. … If the international community withdraws, the economy will collapse.”

The current Afghan economy is so weak that the government can’t afford to pay an army and police force large enough to take over security responsibilities from U.S. forces. Brinkley’s teams of business volunteers and Defense Department employees are working to strengthen universities, help farmers find markets and encourage U.S. companies to invest.

Brinkley is also working with the Afghan government’s Ministry of Mines on a plan designed to create a self-sustaining economy over the next five to 10 years.

“Afghanistan is a treasure trove of extremely valuable mineral wealth,” Brinkley said. “This is the ticket to the future viability of Afghanistan.”

The U.S. Geological Survey has done extensive aerial mapping of Afghanistan that shows potential deposits of copper, iron ore, coal, gold, lithium and other resources. China is developing a copper deposit that could become the first of several large mining operations.

Having these resources does not automatically mean Afghanistan will make it. Brinkley said U.S. business experts could help the Afghan government counter corruption and write and execute resource development plans.

“If we do nothing, international actors with no concern for corruption or the environment will come in and turn Afghanistan into a mining colony,” he said.

Fruitful endeavor
Brinkley’s staff set up a visit to Afghanistan for Scott Fichter of Sweet Dried Fruit of Largo Vista, Texas, that’s led to an agreement to purchase Afghan raisins for the U.S. and European markets.

Fichter said Afghanistan was one of the top exporters of raisins in the world back in the 1970s, and many of the old grapevines are still bearing fruit.

“I’m not a big fan of the war one way or the other. I’d like to see it resolve itself,” Fichter said. “My company is set up to be able to help the situation. We’re the largest raisin handler in the world.”

Brinkley said his task force helped create hundreds of thousands of jobs in Iraq. The task force helped Iraqi contractors supply goods such as building materials to the U.S. military and then got the Iraqis to accept payment through banks. That helped dry up a corruption-prone way of doing business that relied on big wads of cash. It also helped Iraqi banks establish themselves.

The Pentagon-led economic efforts were resisted by some other federal officials. But a “Lessons Learned” report issued last year by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded that no one else in government was prepared to do the work Brinkley’s task force has pursued.

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